Hello, my name is John Iannelli and I am an attorney practicing in the South Jersey area. I’m in court just about every single day and every time I go to court I see people pleading guilty to charges, whether it be criminal drug possession charges or DWI charges, without an attorney or any type of legal advise and most importantly without seeing any of the police reports or evidence against them in their case.
And every time I see that happen I cringe because I know that some of these people may be making a terrible mistake.
As a United States citizen you are automatically entitled to certain rights. These are known as Constitutional Rights.
If you’ve watched enough TV, then you’ve probably heard the familiar phrase known as the “Miranda Warnings”, which highlight some of your rights if arrested:
- You have the RIGHT to remain silent
- Anything you say CAN AND WILL be used against you in a court of law
- You have a RIGHT to an attorney of your choosing
- If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to represent you
Some other important Constitutional Rights:
- The RIGHT to a jury trial
- The RIGHT to confront (or cross-examine) your accusers
- The RIGHT to examine the evidence against you.
The Right to Remain Silent
First, let’s look at the “Right To Remain Silent”. If you are in custody and you are being questioned by a law enforcement officer and you were not advised of your right to remain silent, then anything you say could be suppressed, meaning that it cannot be used as evidence against you in a court of law.
My Advise: Do not say anything!
Many times clients tell me that they admitted incriminating things to the police because the police told them things like “I’ll help you out in court” or that “it’ll be easier” or “better if you just tell me”.
Remember this: Many times the worst, or a crucial piece of evidence against you comes out of your own mouth!
Consent to Search
A somewhat related issue is giving consent to search you, your belongings or your car or house. People often are coerced into giving the police consent to search because they hear things like “we’ll make you sit here all night until we get a search warrant” or “we’ll get the search dogs out here” or “is there anything in your car that should be there?”
People often think that they won’t get charged if they make incriminating statements or give consent to search.
The Right to Examine the Evidence Against You
You also have a right to examine the evidence against you prior to court. Now this is very important because it means that your lawyer will get the chance to fully review the evidence against you. Only then can he/she provide you with sound legal advise and help you make an informed, intelligent decision about what you should do.
And that is why I cringe when I go into court and see people pleading guilty right away by themselves. I know they haven’t looked at any of the evidence against them. And if they didn’t look at any of the evidence how could they possibly know if they should plead guilty.
Because without looking at the evidence there is no way they can tell if the prosecution can meet its’ burden of proof, that burden of proof being proving the case against you beyond a reasonable doubt.
And that’s why it is very important that you hire a lawyer review your case.
Now you may be thinking, well my alcohol breath test results were over the legal limit so I am guilty or the cops got me with the drugs in my pocket so I am guilty, when in reality this may be very far from the truth.
Keep this in mind: In the history of the United States no one was ever found “Innocent” after a trial. They were found Guilty or Not Guilty. Not Guilty does not necessarily mean innocent!
It means this and only this: The charges against you cannot be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
Police Need “Valid” Legal Reasons to Take Action
The police must have valid legal reasons to take action against you:
- They need valid legal reasons or what is called “Reasonable Suspicion” to stop your car.
- They need valid legal reasons or what is called “Probable Cause” to search you or your belongings or your car!
- They need valid legal reasons (again “Probable Cause”) to arrest you.
If the police do not follow these strict legal principals, then the evidence against you could possible be suppressed and thrown out of court!
That means YOU WIN!
And without getting proper legal advise from an attorney you will never know if you could have had evidence, whether that evidence is physical evidence (drugs) or other evidence (such as your own incriminating statement) thrown out of court.
And then you’ll never know if you could have beat the case!